AP Human Geography

Hershey High School

Taoism: “The Way”

February2

The hearth of Taoism is China. It is difficult to define Taoist followers and is therefore also difficult to estimate the number of followers and where they live. In China, there are approximately 400,000 million people practicing Chinese folk religions. Worldwide, the range of Taoist believers is estimated between 20 and 50 million. Geographically, Taoism flourishes best in regions populated by Chinese people including mainland China, Singapore, Taiwan, and Malaysia. It is safe to say that Eastern Asia has been influenced by Taoism and most Taoists are concentrated in this area; however, there is a small population in the western hemisphere.

Taoism never really diffused out of China, but spread throughout China. Taoists leaders believe people should come to them if they want to convert over to Taoism and therefore, you will not see any Taoist missionaries.

This statue of the founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, is located in the Quanzhou province of China. It was carved out of the stone of a mountain sometime during the 6th century.

This statue of the founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, is located in the Quanzhou province of China on the sacred site of Mt. Qingyuan. It was carved out of the stone of a mountain sometime during the 6th century.

Taoism is a belief based on philosophy and thought more than the worship of deities. The Chinese word “tao” means “the way.” The religion itself was influenced by shamanistic and nature religions and is also therefore, polytheistic. Three main deities are worshipped and are referred to as the “Three Pure Gods” or “Three Purities.” The beginnings of Taoism date back to prehistoric times. There is no founding date, although analysts approximate it to be somewhere between 206 B.C.E. and 220 C.E. According to Livia Kohn, a professor of religion at Boston University, “Taoism as a religion began in the year 142 C.E. with the revelation of the Tao to Zhang Daoling or Chang Tao-ling by the personified god of the Tao, Taishang laojun (Lao Tzu), the Highest Venerable Lord.” After Zhang Daoling had this revelation, he became the first Celestial Master and founded the first Taoist school of thought. Taoism was recognized as a religion sometime between the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. With the introduction of Tao Te Ching (Taoist scripture which was written by Lao Tzu), a focus was provided to guide Taoist thinking. It became a semi-official Chinese religion during the Tang dynasty. As Confucianism gained popularity, Taoism’s popularity decreased, and changed from an official religion to a widely practiced Chiense tradition.

These monks are celebrating a Taoist festival where sacrificial offerings may have been made.

These monks are celebrating a Taoist festival where sacrificial offerings may have been made. Traditional Taoist monks wear their hair in buns and the festival clothing is often extremely ornamental.

During the communist reign over China, the Taoists in the country were affected and were prevented from practicing their religion. This was ironic because Taoists believe that the best government is the government that doesn’t govern at all and lets the people live the way they choose. According to BBC, “Taoism was banned and its followers re-educated, with the result that the number of practicing Taoists fell by 99% in 10 years.” When the communistic reign loosened its grip on the country, a small measure of religious freedom was allowed. Taoism was once again practiced in China.

Contagious diffusion is seen with Taoism. Since the empire of China was so united under emperors, the entire country practiced extremely similar religions and believed similar things. Once Zhang Daoling founded Mount Qingcheng as the center of the empire, many other Chinese jumped on the bandwagon and became Taoists. Mount Qingcheng is still a place where many Taoists take pilgrimages. The sacred site of Mount Qingcheng is known for its mountains and sacrificial rivers. Since this religion is also extremely ethnic, Taoists can be found in many countries where Chinese have immigrated.

The religion has maintained its original concepts and it hasn’t diffused majorly around the world. The only thing that may have diffused worldwide is the symbol of yin and yang. Yin and yang represent balance in life between the negative and positive things. However, many Western cultures have simply adopted the symbol as a popular tattoo or simply an icon without knowing the meaning or Taoist background.

This table shows the different countries of Asia and which religions are most widely practiced in each area. Taoism is predominant in Chinese areas and Japan, as is Shintoism.

This table shows the different countries of Asia and which religions are most widely practiced in each area. Taoism is predominant in Chinese areas and Japan, as is Shintoism.

Many intellectual Chinese people are proponents and become followers of Taoism because of the deep roots in Chinese tradition, philosophy and values. The main objective of Taoism is to stay in harmony with the world, so many Taoists are extremely thoughtful and like to question the way of the world. Chinese who were not followers of Confucious might have also become Taoists since the two have one thing in common: they are schools of thought rather than worshipping religions.

Santeria

February2

The mysterious syncretic religion of Santeria has roots in the Yoruba faith of Western Africa and the Carribean, and it combines these mystical beliefs with Spanish Catholicism. The term Santeria was often used by colonial Europeans to describe the Carribean descendants of West Africa, and in Spanish, its literal translation is “the way of the saints.”  Because Santeria contains many elements of traditional Spanish Catholicism, it is no surprise that the indigenous people of the Santeria faith are monotheists; they believe in only one God, although they do believe in honoring saints by means of animal sacrifice and prayer. Prayer is often led by shamans, known as babalorishas. Santeria is shamanistic only in that the shamans, also known as Santeros and Santeras, serve as the clergy of the religion and can help connect their material world to the divine world.  The hearth of Santeria is in present-day West Africa, specifically Nigeria. During the African slave trade, the Lukumi people were brought over to the Carribean, where their indigenous faith intermingled with the traditional Catholic beliefs of their Spanish captors. The religion has spread to various countries, including the United States, Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, Nicaragua, Argentina, Colombia, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Canada, and Great Britain, through a method of diffusion that is neither hierarchical nor contagious; because the religion is indigenous and ethnic, Santeria has spread only in Spanish-speaking parts of countries with groups of people native to Cuba, the Carribean, or West Africa. Santeria reached Cuba and the United states in a matter of a century or two, but it has taken several hundred years for Santeria to reach more obscure locations, such as Canada and Italy.  Santeria spread with the African slave trade, and has since spread more slowly, usually spreading only when people migrate to various locations for reasons not pertaining to Santeria. Santeria’s spread has slowed for several reasons. Not only is there less of a push for Santeria because it is not a widely recognized religion, but Santeria has also been given a bad name in the media; there have been cases of animal abuse related to Santeria’s animal sacrifices, and one seventeen year old girl died from a suffocation relating to an exorcism that was performed to try to rid her body of evil spiritsDistance decay has not affected Santeria thanks to the internet’s commodification of the religion; there are many websites with religious paraphernalia available to purchase. Because internet commodification is international in nature, it helps to standardize Santeria as a religion; there is less variance when Santeros from Venezuela and Italy are purchasing the same candles and animal bones for use in their respective clergies from the same websites. Possibly the only alteration to affect Santeria is the addition of Native American tribal drumming as Santeria diffused throughout the United States. The segments of the population who were most accepting of Santeria tend to be those who are ethnically affiliated with the religion; for example, a Nigerian immigrant may feel close ties to Santeria because the religion stems from his or her country of origin.

The founders of Santeria are unknown; what is known about Santerias beginnings are that slaves from west Africa brought the religion over to the Carribean and parts of South American during the African slave trade.

The founders of Santeria are unknown; what is known about Santeria's beginnings are that slaves from west Africa brought the religion over to the Carribean and parts of South American during the African slave trade.

Churches, like this one in Havana, Cuba, are central to the worship aspect of Santeria. Many elements of Santeria come from traditional Catholicism, including their churches where the largest imprint of the Santeria cultural landscape can be seen.

Churches, like this one in Havana, Cuba, are central to the worship aspect of Santeria. Many elements of Santeria come from traditional Catholicism, including their churches where the largest imprint of the Santeria cultural landscape can be seen.

This map, detailing the African slave trade, shows the magnitude of the amount of African slaves arriving in the Carribean from West Africa. Many of these slaves brought with them Lukumi and Yobura, two essential religions that help compose Santeria.

This map, detailing the African slave trade, shows the magnitude of the amount of African slaves arriving in the Carribean from West Africa. Many of these slaves brought with them Lukumi and Yobura, two essential religions that help compose Santeria.

Here is an example of the cultural landscape of Santeria.

Candomble

February2

Candomble, which means ‘dance in honor of the gods,’ is a polytheistic religion that originated from its hearth in Salvador, the capital of Bahia, and Cachoeira in Brazil.  It originated from the ideas Yoruba people of West Africa, who are also responsible for the emergence of Santeria in the Caribbean.  This religion also draws its beliefs from those of the African Diaspora, mainly through the Atlantic slave trade.  When the African slaves presented Candomble’s ideas and beliefs to Brazilian slaves, they were very accepting of the religion and are partly responsible for its spread.

Bahia (red) is the region of Brazil where Candomble started

Bahia (red) is the region of Brazil where Candomble started

Most of the followers of Candomble live in Brazil, but it has spread to other countries like Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Mexico, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.  It developed in Brazil based on the information African Priests brought with them during the slave trade between 1549 and 1888.  The first Candomble temple, or terreiro, was established in Bahia in the early 19th century by three free African women, Iya Deta, Iya Kala, and Iya Nasso.  Over time, the candombles began to separate after numerous disagreements, which led to the creation of hundreds of new candombles.  These new candombles are known today as nations, or nações.  Some examples of the nations are Candomble Jejé, Candomble Ketu, and Candomble Bantu.

As for beliefs, followers of Candomble believe in one God called Oludumaré, who is served by Orishas, or Orixás in Portuguese.  These lesser deities represent a link between the human world and the spirit world, making Candomble a shamanistic religion.  It is believed that there is an Orisha for each person that protects their owner and controls the owner’s destiny.  To receive their Orisha, the prospective owner must be possessed by the deity and make sacrifices of the animal,
This is part of the initiation ceremony when a person receives their own Orisha

This is part of the initiation ceremony when a person receives their own Orisha

mineral, and plant kingdom.  Healing, dancing, and percussion are also involved in the ceremony.  One other major belief of Candomble is that there is no right or wrong.  Rather, they believe that each person has a destiny they must carry out to the fullest extent.  Regardless of their destiny though, they believe that any evil a person causes will later affect their lives.

Because all the rituals and beliefs were passed orally and there are no holy scripts, Candomble spread by contagious diffusion.  Only recently followers began to write down their rituals.  Although some aspects of the religion may have been left out or forgotten over time, Candomble has stayed largely unchanged.  A few of its beliefs originated in the Catholic faith, which maked Candomble a syncretic religion.  Both Catholocism and Candomble have similar ideas with Saints and Orishas.  Furthermore, followers of Candomble often take part in celebrations of Catholic saints that correspond with Candomble deities.

Salvador, Candombles ancient home in Brazil

Salvador, Candomble's ancient home in Brazil

Although Candomble shares some beliefs with other religions, it is very unique in its own way.  The belief that every person must carry out their destiny without thinking in terms of right and wrong is unlike many of the popular religions we are used to in the United States.  The idea that each person has a personal deity and all of the aspects of the Orisha ritual are also interesting.  Overall, even though Candomble is dissimilar to many other religions, it is still valid and meaningful to its followers.